Notebooks From the Emerald Triangle
Notes of a Renegade Gardener in the Far Hills
A Novel by Bill Bradd
Northern California's Emerald Triangle — the counties of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity — has become both famous and infamous as a center of outdoor marijuana cultivation over the past thirty years. Many residents grew pot gardens out in the far hills in wildcat locations as well as a few who boldly cultivated in their own yards. Poet and now novelist Bill Bradd worked in this outlaw culture for a while, observing its similarities with the Moonshine Era of Prohibition, another distinctly strange time in the country's history.
During the growth of this renegade phenomenon, an entire subculture emerged, eloquent folks alongside weird guys who kept gas cans strapped to the top of their trucks. Still, most of them tried to look ordinary while living outside the law. Bradd does not glorify this culture, instead creating an evocative document telling some of the inside story of a unique bunch of characters, honoring their lives and their places. His literary images are highly charged, creating an enthralling and contemplative book full of drudgery and aging, paranoia and passion, and occasional flashes of insight about humans and nature.
Bradd's book has drawn its share of acclaim. Paul Krassner of The Realist-fame touted it in an October 2010 High Times article. And poet Sharon Doubiago and writer/scholar Jonah Raskin showered Bradd's work with high praise. See their reviews below.
“I wanted to become a writer so I could become a good reader, so I would know great writing when I saw it, to see the armature, the slant of light, to understand how texture casts shadows, to be someone for whom the whole earth of language was quite round.”
Bill Bradd in Notebooks
2010, 136 pages, 6" x 9", full color cover, 13 black & white photographs, 6 color photographs, 2 maps. Published by Ten Mile River Press.
ISBN 978-0-9333913-5-2. Trade paper.
Sharon Doubiago’s review will appear in an upcoming 2011 issue of Big Bridge:
I’ve said for thirty years that poet Bill Bradd is the true voice of the Mendocino Coast and the Emerald Triangle. The advanced engaged consciousness typical of the populace, the high creativity, the meditative, visionary, stoned outlawry, the profound environmentalism, the poets who have not sold out for career, for that “money tree,” but have honed their art to stay true to themselves and to all of Earth. “[T]he King has his Pinkertons and we have freedom.” This book, not an easy product for one such as Bill Bradd, is about that freedom.
My writer friend in the plane seat beside me reading Bradd for the first time keeps laughing out loud, “this is so good, so funny!”
And brilliantly gifted in language, insight, imagination, vision, stories. Heartrending in its lyricism and imagery, metaphors so mindblowing you feel at times you really will explode. Joy is the purpose of the universe, not human happiness. Steeped in incredible nature and its critters, this is a memoir of one who never loses sight of that axiom, who lives that joy. “This book had a lot to do with the moon. Grandmother wanted to be the moon. She said "reflect of me, boy.” It’s about getting old. Seeing my hands in the soil.” The awesome feel for the environment, especially the plants, the seeds, the mice, the ants, the spiders who arrive by truck, the trees, the bears and mountain lions. “What will I do when they pave the planet, covering the secret places that whisper to me, guide me on my journey?” If you’ve never been out there, this book will take you there.
Brilliant all the way to the final story of Jack O’Minory that sums it all up, wow! “In our story we didn’t go to the Wizard for advice, we went there so we could become Wizards.” And as Wizards to kiss the grave of Ernest Foresti, 1918-1930.
For years I’ve offered to come to Bill’s cabin, camp out in my van and help him put his stuff on a hard drive, a disc. To save it from the river. He’s the only writer to whom I’ve ever made that offer (having so much myself to do). There’s a lot more stuff that needs saving, but Notebooks is a great beginning. The whole earth of language has never been given so well.
— Sharon Doubiago's memoir, My Father's Love/Portrait of a Poet as a Young Girl, Volume One , November 2009, was a finalist in the Northern California ok Awards in Creative Nonfiction, 2010. She has written two dozen books of poetry and prose.
Jonah Raskin in The Redwood Coast Review, Fall 2010:
Bill Bradd knows marijuana land from the inside out. He also knows the fine line that separates the real from the unreal. Ambiguity and mystery tug at his imagination, and in Notebooks from the Emerald Triangle he presents a mystery story whose roots are tangled up in ambiguity. Nowhere does he come out and say point-blank, "I grew marijuana." Most criminal defense lawyers would pat him on the back for his caution. After all, the possession, sale, transportation and use of marijuana are illegal by federal law. Since 1970, there have been more than 20 million arrests for violations of the marijuana laws in the United States — and mostly just for possession. So confessing to crimes involving cannabis, as it is now increasingly called, could lead to an arrest and a possible conviction.
Bradd says that you have to be insane to be a marijuana grower. "You cannot invent this kind of crazy," he writes. "You got to be crazy for a long time." I would add especially crazy if the growing is outdoors, visible to helicopters, and in direct sunlight. Growing marijuana in the Emerald Triangle... and all over Northern California, as Bradd apparently did for years, means committing a felony in broad daylight and often with evidence galore such as scales, seeds, and the grower's own notebooks.
Committing crimes in broad daylight is, of course, a very American way of passing the time, and "renegade gardeners" and "guerilla farmers" take their place in a rogues' gallery of heroes that includes Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and the smugglers and bootleggers who operated during the Prohibition against alcohol, which taught the nation almost nothing about prohibitions of any kind.
Notebooks from the Emerald Triangle belongs to a tradition of outlaw literature. It's the kind of book that Henry David Thoreau... would have written had he been a marijuana grower in the woods of Mendocino and Humboldt. Bradd's book is about nature, woods, hills, and creatures including owls and deer. Thoreau also had a cash crop, though his was beans. Like Walden, Notebooks is about the little things that matter: socks, hands, a cabin in the woods, and the cats that inhabit the cabin. Bradd has a sharp eye for detail and an energetic prose style that carries the reader along. In one vivid passage near the start of the book, he writes, "I always love preparing to go into the hills for the first time, getting out the knapsacks and the water bottles, the medicine kit, finding the knife, dumping the old alder leaves into the compost, a spent band-aid, a dead wooden match, a used blue bandana, a very dead banana peel, a bottle of Vicks, and an emergency candle." Those details help, and the book works well when the descriptions are vivid and the reflections are ground in the real.
Notebooks is about money trees as he calls them, a phrase that seems apt and that ought to remind just about everyone who lives in the Emerald Triangle and far beyond, that writing about marijuana — pot, weed, cannabis, dank, ganga, grass, and whatever else one wants to call it — is a matter of nomenclature. The words and phrases used to describe the plant at the heart of the underground economy say a great deal about where one stands on the issue of legalization, for example... The words and phrases also suggest how and why one is connected to the shadow economy itself. To some it's first and foremost a plant; to others it's a drug; to still others a sacred herb. Of course, it's also a commodity that's bought and sold or bartered for goods and services. Even growers who love their trees and see them in all their beauty and majesty often can't help but calculate how much money they'll bring after the harvest.
Near the end of his inspired account, he writes that "the adventures in this book were not unique to me. Other woods workers had adventures and stories. This is just my version." True enough; thousands of men and women have grown marijuana in the Emerald Triangle over the past 40 years. Many of them have exciting tales to tell about their encounters with the law and with thieves. But most of them haven't committed their stories to paper and published them. Bradd has and that makes him an uncommon woods worker.
He is an uncommon writer — unromantic and clear-sighted, though he also writes poetically, and in a kind of stream-of-consciousness way befitting a "notebook" as this book claims to be. "This time on the edge of my right ear, the ear I tug when I'm thinking about the river, the passage, the water hawk's search, the otter, the nest," he writes eloquently. "This kind of stuff, trying to weave it in, make it current, solve the puzzle of rent by understanding the angle of drop, by keening the terror from above." No one else could possibly have written with that language, and that rhythm.
Notebooks is one of a kind, and because it straddles a frontier that links the woods of oak and manzanita to the fabled woods of the "money trees." it will endure. In a rare moment of nearly full disclosure about his crop and how he handled it after the harvest, Bradd writes, "I give each bud one snip. It came from the jungle so it should look like the jungle, not some Ivy League haircut." Fortunately Bradd is no neat and tidy Ivy Leaguer. His memoir is no ordinary garden-variety book either, but a wild narrative that takes readers down into the tangled underbrush, and into the life of a crazy, beautiful, sad, funny woods worker in the backcountry that is our own big comic, tragic backyard.
— Jonah Raskin is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California